November 2, 2011

Dia de los Muertos

Above is a little diorama that I bought a few years ago in Old Town San Diego.  On the evening it was purchased, I was playing both tourist and host, tourist because I hadn't been to Old Town in a long while, and host, because I was showing off Old Town, and San Diego, and by proxy, my home state, to a friend from Canada who'd never been to California. 

The things I take for granted, that are mere backdrop to my days, were wild and exotic to my friend from the Great White North:  crimson bougainvillea, cactus, and hand-thrown tortillas in the Mexican restaurant.  And likely, my own background seemed exotic to her: I am half Mexican-American on my mother's side. 

Half Mexican-American, yet arguably the "whitest" and least ethnic member of my mother's family, and most definitely the only one who has bought or displayed any memento celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead. I didn't know about Dia del los Muertos growing up.  My family was self-conscious, one might even say ashamed, of our background.  My grandparents, both born and raised in Southern California, spoke Spanish as children, but rarely spoke it in my presence.  With her fair skin and light brown eyes and strong, patrician nose, my grandmother was sometimes mistaken as (and proud to be mistaken as)  Jewish, rather than a Mexican.  (And even as an adult, her world was so small, I doubt she's even known a real Jewish person in her life.)

Sometimes, my mother and I would drop in on my grandparents in the evening, after dinner, and my grandpa would be relaxing in his recliner, watching an old Mexican cowboy movie on one of the local Spanish stations. When we entered, he was quick to point the remote and change the channel.  All of which is to say: It's November 2, both "Dia del los Muertos" and All Soul's Day, but the date really doesn't mean anything to me or my extended family.  Unlike what seems like 99.5% of the other many, many "Hispanic" "Latino" "Chicano" or "whatever" families that make up the population of my state, my own family isn't Catholic. Ritual and tradition isn't something we're much comfortable with.

Maybe that's why I never encountered Dia De Los Muertos until a high school friend went off to college and got involved with a political group that was all about celebrating and elevating the "heritage" of Chicano students. I hung around with that group, attended a few of their parties with my friend.  It wasn't ever my heritage, it seemed.  Still,  there I was in that souvenir shop in Old Town, fondling the hand-made Mexican crafts with my Canadian friend, and wanting to claim something of it all as mine.  To show her: see?  After the enchiladas, and the strolling mariachi musicians at the restaurant, after the walk through the dry autumn air beneath rustling palm trees: see, this is who I am.

But sugar skulls, skeletons, bright paper flowers, and Frida Kahlo?  Really, I'm just a tourist here, too. 
I display the little diorama there for today, amidst old photos of family members who have passed on (not my grandma, but she is not really here and present these days, either).  On All Souls Day, the barrier between the living and the dead is supposed to be thin, easily permeated. Recently I complained to my husband that I never dream of the family members who've passed on, that they never come to visit me.  Maybe it's because we don't need the nether world of sleep to say hello. Maybe they are here in my every step, right beside my elbow. Drowsing, at the very least, in my every last cell, waking sometimes to assert: See, this is who I am.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting! :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Blogger Template by Designer Blogs